Archive for the 'Fred' Tag

OK the title is a little bit of an exaggeration. Here is a recent photo related to the release of the cargoship MV FAINA by pirates this week. Something tells me that the machine gun mounted on the bow didn’t come as standard equipment.

Here is the whole photo:

090206-N-3931M-158 SOMALIA (Feb. 6, 2009) A watch stander on the bow of USS Mahan (DDG 87) monitors the fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) as it makes preparations to transfer provides fuel and fresh water to Motor Vessel Faina. Somali pirates released the Motor Vessel Faina Feb. 5, after holding it for more than four months. The U.S. Navy has remained within visual range of the ship and maintained a 24-hour, 7-days a week presence since it was captured. The Belize-flagged cargo ship is owned and operated by “Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine” and is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on Sept. 25 and forced to proceed to anchorage off the Somali Coast. U.S. 5th Fleet conducts maritime security operations to promote stability and regional economic prosperity. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael R. McCormick/Released) – US Navy

The Navy has taken a couple hits for not being more aggressive in it’s handling of the pirate situation. This criticism has been directed at all the navies patrolling in the area for being soft on pirates, at least to this point, except for the French, who have shown a real willingness to actively pursue pirates that cross their path. At least this photo is evidence that the Navy is prepared to deal with the pirate threat if they encounter it.

So, maybe one of our more knowledgeable readers can comment on whether this is an ad-hoc setup or if this is something standard.

A Photo of the ransom drop as well as a post release US Navy visit to the ship can be found posted on my blog here: MV FAINA Ransom Drop (Photo)

For some analysis on the possible US anti-piracy strategy, look to fellow USNI guest blogger Galrahn and his post ‘Observing the Strategic Success of US Policy Towards Somali Piracy’, posted on his blog Information Dissemination.



3rd

Bringing Politics to Sea…

February 2009

By

In a couple of the comment threads the issue of politics has come up along with the question of whether politics should even be part of the discussion. In the recent post “Which child do you sell first?” reader ‘RickWilmes’ writes:

Two issues remain for me.

1. How does the USNI blogging community solve the claim of bringing politics into the discussion when the topic IS about politics? For me, personally, when I see this issue being raised then I know the individual raising such a claim has a weak position on the issue. I think it is a subtle form of argument from authority or intimidation. Not quite sure which but this issue needs to be addressed and solved so that it is no longer raised in future topics.Link to his whole comment

So, lets discuss the issue. I would think that there is room to discuss politics in most every subject posted here, provided that the author didn’t frame the post ‘Operationally speaking’ or used other wording that clearly limits the subject.

Subjects, such as those concerning funding, homeporting, policy, etc. probably are more connected to political issues than say flight deck operations, fighting a fire, ship stability, Gravity, etc…

Sometimes, it appears that politics frame and even limit how/if operations are conducted, such as deciding to board an Iranian ship, deciding if and how to conduct anti-pirate operations, deciding to build a new class of ship, deciding to order additional units of whatever after the DoD decided that they don’t want any more of them, deciding not to close bases that the Military would like to close, etc…

I would think that Rules of Engagement are often drafted keeping in mind the possible political implications that operating under those rules might create. Those rules might even be compromised to be less than ideal because of possible negative political implications.

However, at the end of the day, I would think that Navy Policy flows down to the Sailor with his assigned duty in running the ship or Marine or Seal with his finger on a trigger, all with tasks and goals they need to accomplish. I would think that there is little politics to be brought in at that level and I doubt that those carrying out their jobs are thinking what sort of ‘heat’ the President is going to have to face because of what they just did or didn’t do.

This subject does brings up a good point in that the head of the military is a Politician. Only politics can take a budget increase for the military and make it look like a cut in funding. And with that, feel free to discuss politics in your comments on this thread. Do so on other threads using your best judgment.

Posted by Fred Fry



Posted by FFry in Uncategorized | 38 Comments
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Posted by Fred Fry:

Here is a little diversion from some of the recent good conversations going on at the USNI Blog. I am going to take things in a slightly different direction. Partly to give a little appreciation as to how things look from the viewpoint of the ships being attacked, and partly to see what kind of other ideas this fine group of readers might come up with as ways to keep or delay pirates from boarding a merchant ship.

Sure, most of these ships are flying foreign flags and not directly America’s problem, but the cargo they carry might just be needed by US forces somewhere in the globe. Or, as in the case of the M/V FAINA which is currently being held by pirates, the cargo carried, tanks and weapons, is best kept out of the hands of pirates and their network ashore. Like it or not, merchant shipping comprises part of the US Military’s supply lines, just like those truck convoys attacked in Pakistan comprises part of the supply lines for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

I look forward to constructive criticism of what some might consider goofy, stupid or even dangerous suggestions. Just keep in mind that the obvious defense, arming merchant ship crews, is forbidden or too difficult rules-wise to be a valid option. That leaves either doing nothing and welcoming pirates aboard, diverting traffic away from the area entirely, or some other form of defense.

So, here is a revision of a previous article I wrote concerning my thoughts on Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates. This is just some ideas to get people thinking on just how best to beat back armed pirates.

Keep in mind the following three stories when reading the article below:

The Admiral talked about the “golden thirty minutes”. If the allies can get a ship or an aircraft to a threatened vessel within thirty minutes of notice the pirates can usually be deterred and the attack averted.America’s North Shore Journal

And:

PIRATES have today hijacked an escorted German LPG ship with 13 crew in the Gulf of Aden.

The 4,316dwt Longchamp was en route to Asia from Europe, escorted by a naval convoy, when it was boarded by seven armed pirates this morning, owner MPC told Fairplay.

The crew are 12 Filipinos and 1 Indonesian, a company spokesman said.

He told Fairplay that no injuries were reported and that company satellite data shows that the ship is approaching the Somali coast.

MPC would not confirm reports that the ship was fully laden.

Longchamp is managed by Bernhard Schulte.Fairplay

And:

Ship captain reported ‘executed’ – PIRATES executed a ship’s captain after he resisted capture off the coast of West Africa, Fairplay can confirm today.

“A guerrilla attack on a commercial vessel retaliated on the captain and executed him, a source delivering a high-level briefing on piracy told Fairplay. “We are worried about the transfer [of piracy] from East Africa to West Africa.”

The Greek ministry of shipping named the captain as Theodoros Mastaloudis.

A news agency report said yesterday that pirates had killed a Greek master of an unnamed ship on Saturday off the coast of Cameroon but gave no details.

His vessel had come to the rescue of another ship being attacked by pirates, Reuters reported on Monday. - Fairplay

From these three stories we have: Confirmation that there is a price to pay for doing anything that might upset a pirate’s plans; That the Navy sees as one of their main challenges/goals is getting to a ship under attack within 30 minutes; And that even nearby naval protection/escort is not 100 percent protection from being taken by pirates. So at the end of the day, some merchant sailors are finding themselves with nothing to defend the ship except their best creativity.

Given the information above, a merchant ship should plan on having to defend their ship on their own for at least 30 minutes while waiting for help to arrive. Recent attacks on merchant shipping off Somalia show that determined pirates can take over a ship in minutes, if there is nothing standing in their way. This means that they need some short-term solutions that they can deploy to delay attacking pirates from getting onboard. In this most recent hijacking of the LONGCHAMP, being part of a convoy escorted by naval forces was not enough to prevent being taken over by pirates. In the end, they also needed to be able to protect the ship themselves in addition to having a naval vessel acting as their bodyguard.

Most merchant ships do not carry firearms but they do carry other sorts of projectiles. One merchant ship managed to disable a pirate boat by hitting it with a distress flare (or flares or perhaps even other flaming projectiles). The pirate boat caught fire and the pirates ended up being rescued/captured by the Danish Navy and are currently facing prosecution in the Netherlands. All ships have flares and many probably also carry extra expired flares. These are not little flares that you find on weekend warriors in harbors around the US, but pretty impressive ‘industrial strength’ flares that probably make pirates pause after having one shot at them. (However, doing so, might subject you to execution as noted in the story above.)

OK, that is a good start, but you are going to need a lot of flares to put up a sustained defense for a half hour. Your going to need something else.

One suggestion that I have made before was to use ‘Pepperball’ paintballs:

The PepperBall® system is unique in the industry as the first non-lethal weapon to combine multiple effects to accomplish its objective safely and without permanent injuries or death. Since late 1999 PepperBall has been deployed in thousands of situations around the globe, successfully filling a gap in the use of force continuum where no other tools are available.

The PepperBall system consists of a PepperBall launcher and projectiles. The launchers are high-pressure air delivery systems. PepperBall projectiles are hard plastic spheres built to burst on impact. Live projectiles are the foundation of the system and are filled with enough PAVA (Capsaicin II) powder to irritate a suspect’s eyes, nose and throat. As such, the PepperBall system combines a unique kinetic impact technology with pepper powder irritant as a non-lethal deployment device for peace officers. We call this combination of affects Chem-netics™ and hold multiple patents protecting our technology.

Chem-netics makes PepperBall systems effective tools for gaining target compliance. PepperBall projectiles are launched from several types of launchers appropriate for the intended use. These launchers use high-pressure air (CO2) to launch the projectiles. Because the projectiles break upon impact they do not penetrate skin, making this weapon safe even at contact range.Link

One reason that this looks like an effective defense is that the PepperBalls can be ‘delivered’ through a fully automatic paintball gun. (Video link here) A paintball ‘gun’ is not a firearm and most likely would be easier to carry onboard.

Hell, looking at the following video, any sort of fully-automatic paintball gun is sure to have a good deterrent effect. (Video link Here) Even better if you can get them to fire marbles as well, not that paintballs don’t already hurt. And unlike when playing paintball as a sport, there is no rule against hitting pirates in the head with paintballs.

One drawback to these items is that they need to be sourced from ashore, including an adequate supply of compressed gas bottles, ammunition and spares. So, until you can get your hands on something like this, what can your engineering crew build onboard? How about some sort of potato gun. Not for chucking potatoes, but instead to shoot Molotov cocktails, nuts and bolts, ice blocks, sections of pipe, or whatever that will force them to duck for cover.

Taking a page from the Sea Shepherd eco-terror group, how about tossing bottles of butyric acid onto the pirate skiffs? No, maybe not that. After all, if it won’t stop the Japanese from whaling, it certainly is not going to stop a pirate from attacking. One recent lesson learned from a repelled pirate attack on the Chinese ship was that broken glass on deck prevented the pirates from moving around freely because many of the pirates had no shoes and they were afraid of damaging their feet. So, how about showering approaching pirate boats with crushed glass?

Then of course there is the LRAD acoustic device. This is the weapon that the unarmed security team on the M/V BISCAGLIA unsuccessfully used to defend the ship against the pirates. The security company panned the device as ineffective but given that the devices are in use in Iraq and elsewhere, I am going to discount their panning the device as nothing more than an attempt to shift blame.

It was the M/V BISCAGLIA incident that reminded me of a list I had made up a while ago of how to defend a ship against Greenpeace protesters:

Greenpeace keeps getting away with this because ship’s crews are not given the GreenLight to repel them. Here are some ways to protect the ship if you find yourself being attacked by Greenpeace: (Note: Anything you do is your responsibility, although it is Greenpeace that forces you to act.)

- Use fire hoses and fire monitors. Add Foam or soap to make everything slippery. Deliver the soap inside water balloons and then use the hoses to foam it all up.

- Use the anchor wash if there is an attempt to secure themselves to the anchor chain.

- Use paintball guns. For more effect, shoot Pepper balls. [Noted above]

- Have the engineers whip up a couple potato cannons. Instead of potatoes, you can try ice cubes for a shotgun effect.

- Make use of expired flares. Just don’t shoot them skyward.

Originally Posted on Maritime Monday 76

Of course Somali pirates are not Greenpeace protesters, but the list above is a little better than nothing at all and sending a constant stream of material/scrap metal their way might be enough of a deterrent for them to seek a less challenging target, or at least delay them until naval forces arrive to take over the situation. So thinking about this failed defense of the M/V BISCAGLIA, I came up with a couple more ways to defend against pirates if they manage to get alongside:

- Molatov cocktails thrown onto the deck as they come alongside

- Drop the pilot ladder into the sea with a pirate or two, three still clinging to it

- Drop twistlocks and whatever else that is heavy on them

- Fabricate gravity-powered ‘missiles’ out of large diameter pipe that can shoot through the pirate vessel’s hull with the front end cut at an angle like a hypodermic needle to hole the pirate boat. (Not too large that it is not easy to move around the deck and deploy, but large enough to fly through the hull when it hits.)

I would think that the pirates are at their most vulnerable when they are alongside trying to get onboard so this is probably where they should be hit if they cannot be kept away. They are also in a position where if they were to attempt to damage the ship they would most likely become casualties in the process as well.

The suggestions above are of increasing effectiveness as the freeboard of the vessel increases, giving gravity a greater punch as whatever is tossed over the side strikes the vessel.

One option that does not seem to have been seriously discussed yet is having the Navy offer to place armed marines or other military teams onboard some merchant ships for the transit through the pirate area. They can board on one end, ride to the other end and then catch a ride back on another ship. Now lets say you could get these armed teams onboard merchant ships. Just how well armed should these security teams be? Technically, there are two targets. The pirate vessel itself and the pirates onboard the vessel.

To this point, most defensive actions seem to target the pirates. Perhaps the better move is to target their boat with enough firepower that can disable or sink it. This probably means deployment of a heavy machine gun or some sort of rocket or missile that can hole their boat with one shot. Or how about a couple Marines with a 40 mm grenade launcher as part of their gear?

The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm semi-automatic, 6-shot grenade launcher developed and manufactured in South Africa by the Milkor company (renamed Rippel Effect in 2007). The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 30 countries; it has since proven its effectiveness in harsh environments ranging from rain forests to deserts. Total production since 1983 has been more than 18,000 units.

The MGL is multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad’s firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant or pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired at a rate of one per second; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive/defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations.Wikipedia

Using military personnel will overcome a major obstacle in the way of arming merchant ships, namely, it is damn near impossible to get private armed security teams to and from these vessels due to weapons restrictions.

There are already a number of naval vessels in the area conducting anti-pirate operations. Just have a couple stationed at the edge of the pirate areas and then have willing ships embark defensive teams onboard who can ride the vessel through the area and then be collected on the other side by another naval vessel stationed for that purpose. The team can then hitch a ride back to their ship on another cargo vessel going the other way. But this is how it would need to be done, at sea deployment, if done at all. As a bonus, naval vessel can better be tasked for hunting the pirates down and less so on escort duty as these boarding parties essentially turn the ships into additional units to protect the rest of the convoy. There is no need to place them on all the ships. Just having them on some ships (Such as the most vulnerable targets) will make pirates act more cautiously, never knowing if the ship they are about to attack is armed or not.

There is no simple answer here but surely there is more that can be done by the vessels to better prevent more ships from being taken by pirates. So what other ideas are out there?

Kennebec Captain‘s post “The (Unarmed) Defense of the Biscaglia” was the inspiration for this post.

———-

Originally posted here: On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates – 1 Dec 08



Posted by FFry in Uncategorized | 22 Comments
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Modern-day pirates are not the only kidnap threat that merchant seamen face these days. They also risk getting detained for much longer periods by national governments as they criminalize accidents. Take the following better-known examples:

HEBEI SPIRIT
While at anchor, the HEBEI SPIRIT was struck by an adrift barge in December 2007. The end result was South Korea’s worst oil spill. The ship’s Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan remain jailed in south Korea until just recently. They have been detained for much longer than most seafarers have been held by pirates off Somalia. Here is the South Korean Government’s explanation why these two were deemed responsible:

The appeal court in Daejeon jailed Capt Chawla for 18 months and fined him Won20m after finding him guilty on two charges related to the oil spill. The court said Capt Chawla should have gone full astern to drag anchor to prevent the collision with the drifting crane barge Samsung No 1 which had earlier broken its tow.

The court said the master should not have pumped inert gas into the tanker’s cargo holds because it increased the spillage of oil when the explosive risk was low. It added the Hebei Spirit should have been ballasted to create a 10 degree list which would have prevented the oil spill, while three and a half hours to transfer oil between cargo tanks was too long. – Lloyd’s List

They apparently acted in good faith to try and deal with the situation. Unfortunately, those acts were later used against them. Imagine being sent to jail because someone hit your car while it was legally parked. Only last week have these two been freed on bail.

PRESTIGE
The PRESTIGE was an oil tanker that broke up and sank off Spain leaving a huge oil slick in it’s wake.

On November 13, 2002, while the Prestige was carrying a 77,000-ton cargo of two different grades of heavy fuel oil, one of its twelve tanks burst during a storm off Galicia, in northwestern Spain. Fearing that the ship would sink, the captain called for help from Spanish rescue workers, with the expectation that the vessel would be brought into harbour. However, pressure from local authorities forced the captain to steer the embattled ship away from the coast and head northwest. Reportedly after pressure from the French government, the vessel was once again forced to change its course and head southwards into Portuguese waters in order to avoid endangering France’s southern coast. Fearing for its own shore, the Portuguese authorities promptly ordered its navy to intercept the ailing vessel and prevent it from approaching further.

With the French, Spanish and Portuguese governments refusing to allow the ship to dock in their ports, the integrity of the single hulled oil tanker was deteriorating quickly and soon the storm took its toll when it was reported that a huge 40-foot section of the starboard hull had broken off, releasing a substantial amount of oil.

At around 8:00 AM on November 19, the ship split in half, and sank completely the very same afternoon releasing over 20 million gallons of oil into the sea. The oil tanker was reported to be about 250 kilometers from the Spanish coast at that time. An earlier oil slick had already reached the coast. The Greek captain of the Prestige, Apostolos Mangouras, was taken into custody, accused of not co-operating with salvage crews and of harming the environment. – Wikipedia

His attempts to save the ship were thwarted by a game of hot potato by the local European Governments. One might say that these actions by French, Spanish and Portuguese governments contributed to the eventual breakup of the ship and resulting disaster. As thanks for being put in such a situation, the Spanish Government threw the Captain in jail. He sat there for 83 days until a three million Euro bail was paid. To this day he has to report to the police in Greece regularly as criminal charges remain unresolved.

CORAL SEA
The Captain of the CORAL SEA was arrested and thrown in a Greek jail after cocaine was found hidden in the ship’s cargo of bananas. Despite there being no evidence that any crew members had any knowledge of the drug shipment, the Greek Government decided to throw him in jail anyway with a 14 year sentence since he was responsible as Captain. Only recently has he been cleared of these charges and released. Hear is the Captain commenting on his treatment in this matter:

“The police in Europe and America will not come to me saying that they found something on the ship. On the contrary, they will hide it from me and follow where the drugs are going. If the freight comes to its destination, and in the end something comes back to me, then they will know that I am guilty. But these in Greece arrested me because I was the closest. It is interesting that the boxes that the drugs were in were immediately destroyed and thrown away. Without any search, or looking for fingerprints. We brought them a book from Eduador with fingerprints of all who were on the ship, only for them to say that they do not need it because they do not have the boxes” says -.–.-Kristo Laptalo with his wife.Laptalo. He stressed that sea farers have to be ready, because something like this can happen, and it is most important that the company stands behind them. – Javno.com

SOL TRADER
Sometimes ships are ‘arrested’ for any number of reasons, such as if the owner has unpaid bills. The SOL TRADER was recently arrested in Slovenia. Once again the crew become mere pawns in the matter:

The Sol Trader was impounded on 6 January in the Adriatic port of Koper for non-payment of debts to a fuel supplier.

Predrag Brazzoduro told the Zagreb-based Javno.hr news portal that food and water supply to the crew was halted after their first day in the port. He also said the crew has not been paid in months, so seafarers have no money to buy food.

He called for Slovenian officials to allow the ship to be laid up so the crew can come ashore. – Fairplay

A vessel arrest or the abandonment of a ship in a port can quickly turn a ship into a jail for its crew. A jail where nobody is responsible for the inmates. These cases do get sorted out and crews paid, eventually. I wonder how many ships currently being held by the pirates of Somalia have been abandoned by their owners?

COSCO BUSAN
On November 7th, 2007, While departing San Francisco in fog, the COSCO BUSAN struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It is my understanding that at least six member of the crew were detained in the US as ‘Material Witnesses’. After about a year, apparently two of them were permitted to leave the country after completing videotaped depositions and written statements. The Captain and three others remain trapped in the US, but otherwise free to move about. Then again, it is hard to move about without income and salary payments have been an issue.

I did leave this one for last as this is the one incident where chances are that the crew can be seen as at least partly responsible for the accident. (Most of the blame is being assigned to the pilot though). However, they should not have to be detained for so long, especially if they are only going to be treated as ‘witnesses’ to the accident.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that a shipping magnate was kidnapped in Greece last week:

ATHENS, Greece, Jan. 20 (UPI) — A 74-year-old Greek shipping tycoon is in good condition after being freed by kidnappers following payment of an estimated $39 million ransom, officials say.

Pericles Panagopoulos was freed Tuesday, eight days after he was abducted. He was found by a passing police car near the industrial district of Aspropyrgos, just west of Athens, The Times of London reported. – UPI

Did they realize that they didn’t need to actually kidnap a ship, instead kidnapping a vessel owner. I wonder if they saw all the ransoms being paid to the pirates and said ‘Me too!’ At any rate, it seems that they picked their target wisely, looking at the payoff. I suspect that the family might not have been so generous had it been one of their ships that was taken instead.

The goal of this article is to point out some of the lesser-known risks of being a merchant sailor and how sailors are treated. This is a problem even in the US. A good example is the story of Captain Villy Larsen of the cargoship DANICA WHITE’s run-in with the Coast Guard. He ended up spending over 100 days in a US jail for something that probably could have been resolved in a more positive fashion. (Read his story here: “Villy Larsen: I regret my behaviour” ) that has been recognized by the US Coast Guard Commandant (and fellow USNI guest blogger) Thad Allen to the point of having issue a statement on the subject:

USCG boss urges seafarer respect – WASHINGTON, DC 5 March – Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen has urged members of his service to treat commercial seafarers “with the utmost professionalism and respect.” In a communication sent to “all hands”, Admiral Allen acknowledged that he has “received reports from highly respected professionals recounting Coast Guard boardings, inspections and investigations not displaying professionalism. Additionally, some have said they lost the complete trust they once had in the Coast Guard and are fearful of retribution if they challenge the Coast Guard.” Allen wrote, “We must change this perception,” noting that licensed and documented mariners are “professionals who share our interests in a safe, secure and environmentally compliant industry.” He recalled the words of Alexander Hamilton (the first US Secretary of the Treasury who launched the Revenue Cutter Service) that free men are impatient of “everything that bears the least mark of domineering spirit” and said that applies “as much today as it did in 1790 and equally to international mariners and our trading partners”. – Fairplay Homepage

In many cases there is no voice of authority to speak out for the rights of the seafarer. However, it is not a reason to take advantage of them.

(Posted by Fred Fry)



Hello there. Some of you may know me for my weekly series Maritime Monday’ over at gCaptain. The nice folks over here at the USNI Blog offered me an opportunity to contribute, so here I am. Oddly enough, I immediately ran into a bit of writer’s block trying to find an appropriate subject, so I decided to comment on the following Baltimore Examiner story that they ran back in December as it touches on a process that many reads here have probably experienced first-hand:

Naval Academy asks Congress for increase in minority minds

By Jason Flanagan, Examiner Staff Writer 12/16/08
Congressional members will be asked next week to push more minorities candidates toward the U.S. Naval Academy in hopes of increasing the military institution’s diversity.

“We want to let Congress know that we can work with them, and tell them what we are all about,” said Craig Duchossois, chairman of the Board of Visitors, the federal oversight board of the academy.

A letter drafted by the board’s diversity subcommittee, which included Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., will be sent to every member of Congress, first focusing on the black and Hispanic caucuses, telling them about how to increase the diversity of their nominees.

Every member of Congress can nominate high schoolers from their districts. But members have complained that they were unaware of opportunities, such as the academy’s preparatory school in Rhode Island, that could afford more minorities a chance at the academy.

Diversity has long been an issue at the Naval Academy and in the Navy since the academy began accepting minorities in the 1940s. – Baltimore Examiner

I am sure that many readers have gone through the process of applying for a congressional nomination to attend one of the Federal Academies. The competition can be quite tough, especially if you live in Maryland, the home of the Naval Academy, and somewhat easier if you happen to live in other urban areas not located in a state that is the home of a Federal Academy.

For the Naval Academy to increase the diversity of their student population, they first need to have a diversified pool of Academy applicants to choose from. In this respect they are somewhat dependent on members of Congress for this. This is surely the driving force behind the news story above. The story below from earlier in 2008 does hint at a possible reason for a lack of diversity, Members of congress themselves.

In the Washington suburbs, hundreds of impressive teens compete each year to win their representative’s nomination to West Point or the Naval, Air Force or Merchant Marine academies. But in the District of Columbia, spots at the service academies often go unused.

At the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, there is not a single cadet nominated by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), according to an academy spokesman. At the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, there is but one Norton nominee, a spokesman there says.

Contrast Norton’s record with that of, say, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who has 14 nominees studying at the Air Force Academy; Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has six; or Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), with 13.

I asked the academies to break out the number of their students nominated by Washington area House members in the past five years. Norton substantially lags her colleagues, with a total of 20 students inducted, compared, for example, with 62 for Davis and 53 for Wolf. Norton’s suburban counterparts say interest is so high among high school students that they can easily nominate more than enough qualified candidates to be confident of filling their quota of slots at the academies. – Washington Post

This past summer, Congresswoman Norton did nominate two residents to the Naval Academy. She has a team (as do other Members of Congress) who are tasked with handling nominations. I never met my congressman when applying for a nomination from him for both the Naval and Merchant Marine Academies. Surely, she is not the only Congressman who represents an urban area that has nominations that go unused. That is a shame since admission to an Academy is a not only a great way to receive a ‘free’ college education but is also a great way to escape inner city poverty.

So, is the congressional requirement still a good thing or has it outlived its good? Or is this requirement costing academies access to otherwise qualified candidates and contributing to complaints that they are not diversified enough? As for me, I am against the Academies picking students based on race. Because when you do that, you end up disenfranchising others. But by removing obstacles to get to the selection process, you hopefully solve or reduce the problem naturally. Of course, students still need to apply first, but that is another problem.



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